WWe closed our schools and day care centers for several months. We let the children return to their educational institutions on a weekly basis. We made them wear masks and keep their distance. Sporting, cultural and leisure events have been canceled. Only late and only very gradually, partly under exclusive “2G rules”, did we enable children and young people to participate in society again. Even today, children under the age of 12 are denied the right to visit many hospitals – a random example is the regulation of visits to Franziskus Hospital in Bielefeld.
Since the summer of 2020, we have read in many studies how the health and psyche of children and young people have suffered massively during our corona initiatives. We therefore know of a marked increase in diseases such as obesity, eating disorders and depression, of disorders in social behavior and development as well as physical, especially sexualized violence. A link between coronary interventions and mental disorders in children and adolescents was nevertheless rejected by relevant political bodies. We are now in the third year of Corona, the end of the summer holidays is imminent. The teachers’ association is calling for legal authority for the mask requirement in schools. STIKO recommends vaccinating healthy children between the ages of 5 and 12, which – as experience has taught us – is a first step towards the “2G rules”, which then also apply to this age group. We think: There needs to be a change of direction.
Priority for the best interests of the child
It is worth remembering the most basic contexts in a functioning society: Children are the future of society, for all of us. In the future, children and young people will control the fortunes of our world. They can do things differently than we do. We will support them with our experiences while learning from them. Children and young people are at risk. They depend on us for their development. We have to speak for them because they often cannot do it themselves. This concern and responsibility affects us all, not just those who are parents of children. All generations are equally recognized in our society, all people deserve protection. Even more so for children: Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges us to “consider the best interests of the child as a priority” in all measures affecting children.
Children and young people have shown solidarity beyond any measure during the pandemic. In this age group, corona virus infections usually cause very mild disease outbreaks. Serious events and deaths without previous illness are very rare. The numerous restrictions that children and young people had to face were therefore largely to protect others – the elderly and the sick.
affected health and psyche
In principle, it is correct that we have to accept restrictions on freedom in order to protect others. However, all measures must be measured in relation to the principle of proportionality and thus be appropriate, necessary and appropriate to achieve a legitimate aim. Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges us to choose only measures that are harmful to children as a last resort. It is doubtful whether this is the case with regard to all the measures taken against children and young people during the course of the pandemic, despite the high degree of uncertainty, especially in the beginning, about the course of the pandemic and its effectiveness. of countermeasures are taken into account.
Looking back seems less important to us than looking ahead. The pandemic is still to be countered in Germany with action – especially from next autumn. It is important not to repeat mistakes made. In the light of all the burdens that young people have had to bear over the last two and a half years, this includes one thing in particular.: Measures should (without exception!) No longer be directed at this group of people. Schools are not drivers of the pandemic. At the same time, the efforts in children and young people’s freedom to stem the pandemic have a particularly massive impact on their development, their physical and mental health. This is now also confirmed by the expert committee’s report pursuant to section 5 (1) of the Infection Control Act. 9, after which children were massively and negatively affected by our corona protection measures and more than any other member of society in their health and psyche. From our point of view, therefore, it is unacceptable to address this immediately.
The classrooms are cooling down
On the contrary: the Committee of Experts set up by the Federal Government has declared a meaningful evaluation of the effectiveness of the measures aimed at children and young people, not least because of the lack of data, to be impossible. In addition to school closures, this also applies to masks in teaching and constant testing of children and young people without cause. There is a lack of meaningful data from Germany to assess the effectiveness of, for example, restricting leisure activities, school closures and changing classes and other restrictions on access to public life.
After more than two years of the pandemic, the state would have been able to do this. Because that did not happen, similar measures could not be immediately re-launched when the situation in the intensive care units worsens again in the autumn, also due to the shortage of staff that has existed for years. There is too much uncertainty about the actual effectiveness of such measures to justify them for a long time to those who are not themselves exposed to a significant health risk from Corona, but who are particularly vulnerable to measures given their life situation. Our prayer is therefore: Free children and young people (finally) from the pandemic policy.
For the last two and a half years, we have made it too easy for ourselves by applying a large number of protection measures against the corona virus with a high level of intervention on the weakest in our society, without having sufficiently empirically verified their effectiveness in the fight against of pandemic and without sufficiently acknowledging the great suffering which we thereby provoke. Not listening enough to children’s voices triggers a dangerous trend: we can already see today that measures to avoid energy shortages due to the reduced Russian gas supplies are suddenly starting to affect children: classrooms have cooled down, hot water in schools and gyms is off – so far long before adults have to limit themselves.
Much can not be regretted
We must stop the tendency to shift our responsibilities to the youngest prematurely. Pandemic protection measures in children should not play a role in the fall unless a virus variant appears that is significantly more dangerous (for which there is currently no evidence). And that’s not all: because of the fundamentally low risk that Covid-19 disease poses to them, children and young people have made significant “special sacrifices” to our society in recent years. Today, these “special victims” can be clearly measured in several negative consequences for our children’s physical and mental health as well as in massive educational deficits.
Much can no longer be regretted. Nevertheless, we owe it to our children and young people to try to make amends for this kind of thing. Just as we make compensation payments to restaurateurs and others affected in their economic activities as a result of our corona safeguards, we must also compensate for deterioration that has occurred in children and young people.
So we do not only owe it to the younger generations that we will spare them for our efforts next autumn. We also owe them compensation for what they have suffered: Offers to compensate for disadvantages in development and education. In addition to creativity, enough money must be invested in this, especially the education systems must be provided with sufficient financial resources. As a society, we must remember the rights of our children and respect them again in the right way. If we look back on the pandemic in a few years, the bitter impression should not remain that an entire generation was irrevocably prevented from starting its own life. And we just saw the other way.
Prof. Dr. Dr. Frauke Rostalski is President of Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Philosophy of Law and Comparative Law at the University of Cologne and is a member of the German Council on Ethics.
Prof. Dr. Nicole Reese teaches general administrative law as well as labor and civil service law at the University of Police and Administration in North Rhine-Westphalia.